9.28.2005

ID Trial Recap: Catholic Biologist & Professed Creationist Blasts Intelligent Design As 'Tremendously Damaging' & 'Not Science'


What I've found more disturbing than the testimony (which is quite disturbing) has been the media bias in the reporting of this very important trial. Most headlines simply read "Expert Says Faith, Science 'Compatible' in Landmark Case," which at a glance certainly sounds like the expert quoted, Kenneth Miller, supports Intelligent Design. He does not - in fact, he testified that it was "tremendously damaging" to science and misleading to students. And he's a creationist! Fox News - whose website I often find myself defending as surprisingly fair (compared to the slander passing for "news" on its channel) - edited out of its reprint of an Associated Press article all of Miller's testimony attacking Intelligent Design - except the word "compatible." The only other quotes included were from the defense team's opening statements. From Fox's "reporting," you'd come away with the distinct impression of Miller and the first day of the trial in exact opposition to reality. That's what I call a lie. Hopefully, and after a few hours of searching and reading and wincing and cursing, I've compiled a more comprehensive recap of the first two days of this trial.

Intelligent Design Tied to Creationism in Dover Trial

from Post-Gazette / The Associated Press via USA Today / The Associated Press via CNN / Reuters

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania - A school district is undermining science education by raising false doubts about evolution and offering "intelligent design" as an alternative explanation for life's origins, a biologist testified Monday at the start of a landmark trial.

"It's the first movement to try to drive a wedge between students and the scientific process," said Brown University's Kenneth Miller (left), the first witness called by lawyers for eight families suing the Dover Area School District. Dover is believed to be the nation's first school system to require that students be exposed to the intelligent design concept.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs began their case Monday by arguing that intelligent design is a religious concept inserted in the school district's curriculum by the school board.

"They did everything you would do if you wanted to incorporate a religious point of view in science class and cared nothing about its scientific validity," attorney Eric Rothschild said.

In October 2004, the board voted 6-3 to require teachers to read a brief statement about intelligent design to students before classes on evolution. The statement Charles Darwin's says theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." The statement states that "because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact." It refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.

Miller testified that the statement is "tremendously damaging" by falsely undermining the scientific status of evolution.

"What that tells students is that science can't be relied upon and certainly is not the kind of profession you want to go into," he said.

"There is no controversy within science over the core proposition of evolutionary theory," he added. On the other hand, he said, "Intelligent design is not a testable theory in any sense and as such it is not accepted by the scientific community."

He testified that "intelligent design is not science" and aimed to refute several core claims made in Of Pandas and People, which is the beginner's manual to intelligent design, and is mentioned in the four-paragraph statement read to students. Miller said the book omits discussion of what causes extinction. Since nearly all original species are extinct, he said, any intelligent design creator would not have been very intelligent.

Before plaintiffs took the stand on Tuesday, Dover's defense team, a firm that litigates for free on behalf of "Christians and time-honored family values," completed their cross-examination of Miller.

Robert Muise, an attorney for the law center, repeatedly asked Miller whether he questioned the completeness of Darwin's theory.

"Would you agree that Darwin's theory is not the absolute truth?" Muise asked. "We don't regard any scientific theory as the absolute truth," Miller said.

The defense team danced through a list of renowned biologists - Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, and Francis Crick included - and offered quotes and book snippets from these biologists, showing that they can talk about religion and God without compromising their standing as scientists.

Crick, the Nobel Prize-winning DNA researcher, suggested in a book that life could have been put on Earth by space aliens. That fits neatly into the intelligent design concept, whose supporters try not to identify the designer whom they believe is behind nature's complex machinery.

One "need not be a fundamentalist Christian to believe in intelligent design," said Muise. He also noted that Miller describes himself as a "creationist," in that Miller, a Roman Catholic, believes that "God is the author of nature."

Later, Miller said that "just because a scientist makes a statement, doesn't make it scientific."

Throughout the second day, attorneys for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area tried to show that the school board, over a two-year period, had discussed God, religion, and creationism and shown a general antipathy toward evolutionary theory, before ultimately voting to inform ninth-grade biology students that intelligent design "is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view."

Two board members in particular - William Buckingham and Alan Bonsell - were mentioned frequently. Bonsell wanted students to hear about creationism, the Biblical account of the earth's origins, testified Aralene Callahan, a parent and also a former school board member in Dover, York County.

Callahan testified that Bonsell "expressed he did not believe in evolution and if evolution was part of the biology curriculum, creationism had to be shared 50-50."

She said Buckingham told a board meeting, "You can't expect me to believe that I was ever descended from apes and monkeys."

"They were pretty much downplaying evolution as something that was credible," she said.

Bryan Rehm (right), a Dover physics teacher until June 2004, recalled Buckingham making a reference to Jesus' crucifixion: "Two thousand years ago, somebody died on a cross. Can't somebody stand up and do something for him?"

Rehm said that the science faculty had been forced to watch a video explaining why Charles Darwin's theories on evolution were being improperly taught to school students.

Buckingham, according to the testimony, expressed fears that the biology textbooks he'd reviewed were "laced with Darwinism" and too one-sided in their deference to evolution. At a board meeting, he criticized a college student who studied evolution, saying the man had been "brainwashed." His wife, Charlotte, quoted Old Testament verses during public board meetings, one plaintiff testified. Buckingham was further quoted as saying: "This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such."

In other testimony Tuesday, plaintiff Tammy Kitzmiller (left) said that in January, her younger daughter chose not to hear the intelligent-design statement — an option given all students — putting her in an awkward position.

"My 14-year-old daughter had to make the choice between staying in the classroom and being confused...or she had to be singled out and face the possible ridicule of her friends and classmates," she said.

President George W. Bush has said schools should teach both evolution and intelligent design.

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